Fifty Shades of Oy Vey: Will Jewrotica really heat up Jewish life?

ROUTINE EMERGENCIES by Allison Kaplan Sommer
Ha’aretz, Oct.11, 2012

The new website Jewrotica represents another step in the evolution of the hipsterish corner of the Jewish community, dedicated to making Judaism more ‘cool’ and cutting-edge – and yes, sexier.

A new website taps into Jewish sexiness.

I confess: The first thing I wanted to do after I heard the name of the new website, Jewrotica, was start giggling like an embarrassed 12-year-old.

The next thing I wanted to do was think of silly possible names for the site’s erotic stories – Fifty Shades of Oy Vey; Naughty Yeshiva Boys Gone Wild and Hot and Horny Hebrews.

My utterly immature reaction probably stems from the fact that for me and most of my fellow tribe members, publicly embracing the intersection of our religion and our sexuality is unfamiliar, and therefore uncomfortable. Even a world where every imaginable kind of porn – oops, I mean erotica – exists on the Internet, this is an utterly new direction. No one’s going to see a story in the Penthouse forum that resembles these (heavily censored) excerpts from the Jewrotica story Any Given Morning.

His beard scratched my ear in a way that sent shivers up my spine as his hand wrapped around my mouth, the tefillin marks from the morning still imprinted on his arm and hand.

“Were you a good girl while I was gone?” He whispered, his voice gravelly.

I mumbled into his hand, unable to speak. I had been cleaning when he had come home. I knew he had to be at work soon. Shacharis ends not long before his commute begins. With his body pressed against my back, he walked me into the dining room.

He pulled me back up to him abruptly, his hand moving from my mouth to the back of my tichel, his fingers snaking their way inside to the back of my hair, gripping it as the tichel fell to the floor. I saw his eyes, dark brown and narrowed, the need in them like fire, consuming him.

No one at Shul would have guessed at what went on in our home. No one knew I wore naughty lingerie underneath my standard issue frum uniform and that I wore stockings and thongs while serving kiddush. The contrast, the forbidden quality made everything even more exciting. The rougher he was, the more I fell into his grip, the more I relaxed and felt free to be the creature he created.

Whew. Oy vey, indeed.

To be fair, this particular story is an example of the most explicit material you can find on the site, which aims to be a “hub of Jewish sexual expression.” And the site is all words and no pictures (to the disappointment of those who were expecting a nude Bar Refaeli spread.) The contributions, as on any other literary-oriented erotica site, are submitted primarily by volunteer anonymous writers and are carefully categorized and rated for content like movies – from PG to XXX. Subjects include everything from memories of skinny-dipping at Jewish camp to serious contemplation of “sex and holiness.”

The adventurous young founder of the site, Ayo Oppenheimer, has spoken earnestly in interviews about her motivation for creating the site: what she sees as a lack of healthy discussion about sexuality and sex education in her Orthodox background.

It’s certainly a new and fun idea – and the timing is perfect, considering the red-hot popularity of the “Fifty Shades” books and the so-called mommy porn revolution.

Essentially, Jewrotica represents another step in the evolution of the hipsterish corner of the Jewish community, dedicated to making Judaism more “cool” and cutting-edge – not your Bubbe’s Jewish identity – and yes, sexier. It’s a corner that was pioneered by the Jewlicious blog and David Abitbol, who assisted with the launch of Jewrotica and part of the organizational follow-up on the youthful energy generated by Birthright Israel and the Birthright-linked ROI “Jewish innovators” program, in which Oppenheimer participated. It’s no surprise that Jewrotica was, so to speak, conceived in this environment, and is backed by the Schusterman Foundation (in what looks like one of the most daring moves ever by an American Jewish philanthropic organization.)

Will Jewrotica appeal to a substantial audience and reinvigorate sex in Jewish life? The jury’s still out. For non-observant Jews, it does do a real service in countering the pop-culture damage wrought by emasculating Jewish mothers like that of “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza or Howard Wollowitz, on “The Big Bang Theory.” The theme of the Jewish woman who annihilates male sexuality and makes it impossible for Jewish men to get turned on by anything Jewish has its roots in Philip Roth’s 1959 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Ever since modern literature’s most famous oversexualized Jew was unable to have sex in Israel, Jewish girls have been paying the price.

As for the ultra-Orthodox – well, if the entire Internet isn’t forbidden to them, sites like this one certainly are. In fact, sites like these are a large part of the reason the online world is a big no-no. I would imagine that just as Reform Judaism is considered more blasphemous than secularism, erotica involving identified Jews is probably viewed in these quarters as being even filthier than standard goyish porn. Somehow I don’t think they’ll appreciate reading about the exhibitionist joys of undressing at the mikveh or memories of a lover who took everything off but her sheitel.

Part of me says that the last thing this community needs to do right now is to dwell on the power of sex. After all, the extreme modesty and increasing gender segregation of the ultra-Orthodox world is a form of hyper-sexualization, where every glimpse of a knee or a lock of hair can unlock your basest urges.

But ultimately, who am I to oppose the union of two powerful forces in the universe – Jews and sex? Whether or not Oppenheimer and her team ultimately succeed in juicing up the Jews, it’s going to be fun and – um, stimulating – to watch them try.